“Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor” (Eccl 10:1) Solomon penned those Word’s thousands of years ago, yet the truth of them is felt just as much today. Over the past 5 weeks or so, I have been contemplating the difference between frivolity and good humour. Frivolity is when someone makes light of everything, when one lacks seriousness, or even better, someone who is marked by unbecoming flippancy (that’s a great word). The reason for my contemplations were (and are) rooted in my own weaknesses and personality; that is, by nature I find it easy to be flippant.
The problem here is the Scripture calls elders (and by virtue of that everyone) to be “…temperate, prudent, respectable…” (1 Tim 3v2). These attributes do not correspond with a frivolous attitude. For all the honor that comes to the office of an elder (1 Tim 5:17), a little foolishness, a little flippancy with the tongue, can do great damage. As Christians, with the world watching us all the time, waiting for that mistake, the slippery tongue makes for a easy target (James 3:2). Thus Christians should be on their guard against slips of the tongue… but this we all know, it’s nothing new.
Humor though is a good thing, we find God the Father and Christ using sarcasm and wit in Scripture, as do His apostles… “A merry heart does good like medicine” (Proverbs 27:22), but there is a kind of flippancy, a mode one can go into, where they take nothing serious, where nothing is weighty, and conversations are kept at a superficial level. It is even common to use humor as a coping mechanism in the face of tragedy and death (as was done with Princess Diana).
Jesus made this telling statement about the relationship between the heart and the mouth, ““The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45)”. The answer to being more careful in speech, is not so much to watch what you say or be extra careful, but to deal with the source of speech; the heart. Speech is merely a barometer of what is happening in our hearts, so use speech that way, when I catch myself being flippant I need to ask, why am I being like that? What in my heart is overflowing in this coarseness, stupidness etc.
The criteria for humour should be the same as for all conversation, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). We know the difference between humour that is edifying, it leaves our heart feeling merry, it’s like a medicine, but we also know what it is to laugh and have an emptiness and a shallowness. Exactly how this works out all the time, I don’t know, perhaps that is why Paul writes “according to the need of the moment” some jokes may be appropriate sometimes, some jokes may never be appropriate (like racist or sexist jokes), we can get it right though only when our hearts are overflowing with the good things of God’s Word, with the sweetness of Christ.
One closing thought on this issue, and this would apply to us in every field in which we exercise influence, the great Baptist preacher Al Martin said, “You cannot be a clown and a prophet!” If our friends know us as a clown, how can we then expect to be God’s messenger to them? Which are you?